Kaleidoscope of Design


My grandmother was an artist.  She taught me to see the world according to the colors of the rainbow.  I remember her often gazing quizzically, peacefully analyzing a point in space, as though she were trying to see through it.  Her focus was generally upon something quite simple, perhaps even invisible to most – a glass of lemonade, a fallen leaf, or the afternoon sky.  She would sit focused, transfixed, until her voice would emerge with a question that would always go something like this, how would you mix that shade of blue?  She loved to describe colors, especially the ones that most people don’t know how to identify, and often wonder, is that purple or blue?  She knew exactly how much winsor violet to mix with ultramarine blue to create the vibrant indigo hue of an iris petal.

One of her favorite stories to tell, undoubtedly because it showed off her victorious influence on my visual development was when we were sitting at a stoplight and she asked me to tell her when the light turned green.  I was only two or three years old at the time, and she obviously had begun to invest some of her brilliance on my future artistic abilities.  She was expecting me to get this one right.

The light turned green, and with no mention of the change in color from me, she said, “Lindsay – I thought you were going to tell me when the light turned green!”  I replied, with a rebuttal she’d never let me forget, and said, “But Grammie, that’s blue-green!”  Her seed had sprouted.

Color is an amazingly complex and beautiful gift of nature.  We can describe color in scientific terms that reference the principles of wavelengths and the anatomy of the ocular lens.  Experientially, we can recognize the visible spectrum and its gradient of intensity in frequency by simply falling asleep in a room with a digital clock that has red numbers, verses the ever-awakening irritation of high-frequency blue digits.  Intuitively, we know that colors affect our emotional response to the world around us, and as we boil down this observational understanding we arrive at a fundamental element underpinning the RGB coding of our environment – the quality of light.

As an architect, understanding the nature of the physical world is paramount.  We are trained to grasp the significance of our material world, not only in terms of structural integrity, but in the inherent ability of materials to direct design decisions.  The texture, transparency, temperature, and transformability of materials offer a guide to translate how a building functions, and ultimately feels to occupy.

Like color, the value of materials is only truly revealed through exposure to light.  Whether filtering in from the sun or emitting from an installed fixture, architects must consider the impact of various light sources on the experience of a space and the materials involved.

It was no surprise that my grandmother was “thrilled” when I told her I had chosen architecture as my professional path, and I would imagine that she would be equally elated to know that the work I do at SBA is dedicated to the significance of color and light.

A stroll through the Baystate Children’s Specialty Center in Springfield, MA will educate anyone on the ability of color-coding to assist with designated circulation paths, or way-finding.  Punches of accent light stimulate the eye and draws visitors into views beyond their immediate surroundings.

Highly efficient LED light wrapped columns allude to emerging tree trunks with drops of circular green ceiling panels, suspended like branches from an Alice in Wonderland scene.  Children and families afflicted with medical trauma, visit the pediatric wing, and discover a world that feels more like entering a candy store than a hospital.  The playful success of this project illustrates the opportunity we have as designers to highlight moments that may otherwise remain invisible to the public eye, and continue sowing the seeds of artistry through intelligent use of color and light.

Baystate Children’s Specialty Center, Springfield, MA

Post by Lindsay Comeaux Schnarr

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